maximize what you do best

simple truths to unleash your entertaining potential

Categories: Fish and Seafood, Veggies and Sides, Dinner Party, Fête Fact, Posted on January 20, 2020 by Sandy Bergsten

In entertaining (and in life) certain principles hold true. For example, we should all strive to acknowledge our unique strengths and realize our own limitations. Maximizing what you do best and outsourcing where you fall short will help you succeed wherever you set your mind. Here that means entertaining others in a way that is actually enjoyable.

An important first step is to recognize what you do well. Jot down the meals you really like to make. Perhaps it’s grilled steaks and baked potatoes, maybe it’s a big bowl of pasta, or roasted veggies. It might just be picking up a rotisserie chicken or sushi from your local market. The point is that it doesn’t matter what you make, the goal is to figure out what actually brings you joy when you serve it up.

For some reason folks think they need to do something really difficult to impress their guests. That’s crazy. What’s going to make a positive impact on your friends is that they had a really good time at your house. Let’s be honest- guests only have as much fun as their host or hostess. How many times have you been invited over to the Bickersons’, Harried Harriet’s, or Uptight Eugene’s? Note to self- don’t be Eugene.

Last week I had my first dinner party of the new year. I was so excited when my best friend’s daughter (and my daughter’s best friend) let me know she was going to be in Palm Springs for work. I was thrilled when she said she could come for dinner. 

When I invite someone over, I always send a little text or email saying how happy I am that they are coming and to inquire if they have any food restrictions and or if there is something they really would like to have. There is nothing worse than planning and preparing a big meal that your guests won’t enjoy. 

I have a repertoire of go-to dinner menus. I have a few for carnivores, pescatarians and vegetarians. They are my “tried and true” meals that can be prepped and prepared well in advance. Leaving me lots of time to spend time with my guests, because that is the point of entertaining. 

Happened that our dinner guest had a hankering for fish. I instantly knew what I was going to serve- grilled salmon, pureed parsnips and a confetti of asparagus. Sounds fancy? In reality it couldn’t be easier.

This salmon recipe comes from one of my favorite LA chefs, Susan Goin. Her citrus prep for fish is stunning in its simplicity and proven results. Ask your fishmonger for center cut skin-on fillets, cut into 6-7 ounce portions.

In a Pyrex or other nonreactive dish, scatter a teaspoon of lemon zest and minced Italian parsley. 

Place the salmon fillets skin side down in dish. 

Scatter the remaining lemon zest and minced parsley on top of the fillets. Season with salt and pepper. 

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 4 hours. Heat the grill. Over high heat grill the salmon skin side down for three minutes. Flip and grill for approximately three more minutes. Carefully remove the skin and discard. Briefly flip once more. The salmon should be just cooked through. Be careful not to overcook.

If you haven’t yet embraced a parsnip- maybe this is the year you should. Parsnips look like extremely pale carrots. Cooked properly, they are sweet and unbelievably creamy. Best part- you can make parsnip puree a day in advance.

Cut the peeled parsnips into 1-inch pieces.

Place in a pan and cover with chicken broth and a pinch of salt. Simmer covered until the parsnips are tender, approximately 15-20 minutes. 

Drain. Reserving the cooking broth.

Place the drained parsnips back into the warm pan with some of the cooking liquid. With a hand blender purée the hot parsnips along with the butter until smooth.

Add more hot cooking broth as needed to achieve a silky consistency.

Add the heavy cream, if desired, and blend well. Season with salt and pepper.


Either keep warm, covered off heat, or bring to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate. The parsnip puree can be made earlier in the day and up to 1 day ahead. Reheat slowly in a microwave using 50% power, stirring frequently and thinning with tablespoons of reserved broth if needed.

Asparagus confetti is a super quick, super easy and impressive. Bonus is that you can prepare this earlier in the day, then just give it a quick sauté or a warm up in the microwave before serving. Cut the asparagus right below the tip.

Then cut the remaining stalks into ¼ inch rounds. Discard the tough lower third. 

Place the cut asparagus in a microwave-safe dish with one inch of water and a pinch of kosher salt. Cover and steam on high for one minute. Stir and continue to microwave at 30 second intervals until almost tender. Take care not to overcook. 

Drain and immediately shock the asparagus in an ice bath. Drain the cooled asparagus well, then place in a plastic bag lined with paper towel. Refrigerate.

Right before serving, either melt a tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the blanched asparagus and quickly sauté until warmed through or reheat with butter in the microwave-proof dish. Season with salt and pepper.

Once the fish is off the grill this plate literally comes together in a minute.

Leaving you plenty of time to make lasting memories that will carry through the year.

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